William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" will be performed at 7:30 p.m.tonight at Amador Valley Community Park, another in a series by Free Shakespeare in the Park Production that will run Saturdays and Sundays through July 12 (except July 4) and also next Thursday, July 2.
The park is located behind at the corner of Santa Rita Road and Black Avenue.
As Romeo and Juliet fall deeply in love, their families maintain their deadly prejudices against each other and the culture of violence prevails -- themes that remain timely today, noted returning artistic director Rebecca J. Ennals.
"While the doomed young lovers will always be remembered for their romantic devotion, this tale of five young lives needlessly wasted could have come straight from today's Twitter or Facebook feeds," Ennals said.
Although the Bard's tales are often tales of doom and gloom, Free Shakespeare in the Park offers a friendly approach, with humorous twists and turns added to delight all ages. Each performance is preceded by a 15-minute Green Show that begins a half-hour before show time, featuring the Intern Company. The lively, family-friendly show provides background on Shakespeare and the play about to begin.
The productions are put on by the professional San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, which is in its 33rd season of presenting Free Shakespeare in the Park, making theater accessible for anyone who wants to come, and it has been performing in Pleasanton since 2000. The troupe last performed "Romeo and Juliet" in 1992.
This year's play stars Carl Holvick-Thomas as Romeo and Lauren Spencer as Juliet as well as Bay Area favorites Sean Garahan, Phil Lowery, David E. Moore, Carla Pantoja and Valerie Weak. Newcomers to the Free Shakes stage are Michael J. Asberry, Gwen Loeb, Regina Morones and Mohammad Shehata.
This production has a hometown connection with Pleasanton, too.
Weak, who plays Lady Capulet, grew up in Pleasanton, attending Alisal and Walnut Grove elementary schools, Harvest Park Middle School and graduating from Amador Valley High. She performed in a variety of community theater shows, including with the Children's Theater Workshop, founded and directed by Andy Jorgensen, Pleasanton's former civic arts manager.
Families and friends are encouraged to bring picnic suppers to enjoy the production in the park meadow behind the aquatics center. No seating is provided, but blankets and low chairs are permitted. A Free Shakes Concession Stand will have snacks and beverages for sale, with proceeds going to support the program.
Outdoor performances mean actors' voices compete with other sounds -- birds in the trees, children at a nearby playground, sirens in the distance. But in the theater area, Shakespeare commands everyone's attention as it did in his original performances at the Globe Theatre, which had no roof so performances were held during the day under natural light.
Although Shakespeare wrote comedies and tragedies, "Romeo and Juliet" does not stick to either genre, beginning as a romantic comedy then plunging into heartbreak. As could happen today, the younger characters have secret lives unknown to their parents; they love, kill and die without most of the older generation knowing why.
Director Ennals also reminds us that despite its tragic ending, "Romeo and Juliet" leaves the audience with a message of hope.
"So how does a community recover from this 'culture of violence' mode? Shakespeare leaves us with the possibility of hope and healing, a message much needed today," she said.
Learn more about the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival at www.sfshakes.org.
Wherefore art thou? Here!
What: Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"
Who: Free Shakespeare in the Park
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, June 27 to July 12 (except July 4); Thursday, July 2
Where: Amador Valley Community Park, corner of Santa Rita Road and Black Avenue